Skip to main content

Full text of "The Iglesia Ni Cristo And Evangelical Christianity"

See other formats


JAMm (2001), pp. 101-119. 



THE IGLESIA NI CRISTO AND EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY 



Ann C, 



Harpei^ 



The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is a significant element today i^ the 
religious mosaic of the Philippines. Boasting several million membersHn a 
country of over 70 rmllion, it has seen remarkable growth since its humble 
beginnings in 1914.^ While it considers itself the “true” church, it has 
several distinct teachings which place it outside the realm of traditional 
Evangelical Christianity|Jn brief summary, those teachings include a non- 
Trinitarian view of God^which includes an Arian understanding of Christ 
as a created being; an understanding of salvation which is dependent on 
church membership, baptism and works; and a distinctive teaching on the 
role of its founder, Felix Manalo, as the “angel from the Easf’ (mentioned 
in Revelation 7) sent by God in this dispensation of time to bring the final 
message. Other characteristics which set this church at odds with 



Anne C. HARPER (BA, Diploma in Theological Studies, gharper@alum.mit.edu) 
is a U.S. missionary with ACTION International Ministries and a student at 
Alliance Biblical Seminary, Quezon City, Philippines. She was formerly director of 
publications for Alliance Biblical Seminary and for Gordon College, Wenham, 
Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

* Brandon V. Rosquites, “What the Restoration of the Church of Christ in 
Jerusalem Means to God,” God 's Message International Edition no volume (July- 
August 1996), pp. 10-14(10). 

^ Philippine Department of Household Statistics, 1990 Census of Population 
and Housing, tables 5, 22, and Philippine Department of Household Statistics, 
Household Statistics, p. 477. Philippine census statistics show that Iglesia 
membership grew from 475,407 to 1,414,393 from 1970 to 1990. That is a 
threefold increase in twenty years! Note that these are not church membership roll 
figures, but how people polled in the homes actually perceived themselves. 

I have written an extensive analysis of Iglesia theology examining what the 
church believes, how that has developed over time, and what initially influenced its 
formation. See Anne C. Harper, “The Theology of the Iglesia ni Cristo” (an 
unpublished paper; Quezon City: Alliance Biblical Seminary, 1997). 




102 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



Evangelicals are a proof-texting approach to the scripture which seems to 
disregard the contexts of passages; an authoritarian, centralized church 
structure; and extreme antagonism towards outsiders. 

The purpose of this paper is to explore the INC’s view of Evangelicals 
and to consider whether we need to reassess our apologetic and 
evangelistic approach to this group. Writings and missionary experience 
will show that the Iglesia is wary of and even hostile towards Evangelicals 
as a result of our focus on the message rather than the receptor. Application 
of several anthropological frameworks will help us consider how we might 
better communicate with the group in the future. 



1. Introduction 

When my family first arrived in the Philippines in 1994, we 
immediately began to notice many large, ornate, well-kept concrete church 
buildings with a distinctive architecture that dotted the Manila area. 
Usually off-white with several tall, thin parapets, these buildings were in 
sharp contrast to the squalor surrounding them. When we asked about 
them, answers from missionaries were fairly consistent: “Watch out for the 
Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), they are very aggressive and hostile”; “Avoid 
them, for they love to get into loud arguments and debates”; “Their 
buildings are built so that they can fly away in the rapture”; or “They are a 
major competition in the poorer areas we are trying to reach.” The attitudes 
exhibited toward the Iglesia were antagonistic and somewhat demeaning in 
describing their beliefs. 

Evangelicals’ understanding of the Iglesia was often inaccurate. As I 
started seminary graduate studies, I began to examine the INC in greater 
detail to determine what they actually teach and believe. I realized that 
there was a great deal of ignorance and fear regarding this group on the 
part not just of missionaries, but of the Filipino church as well. If we do 
not understand them, how can we reach them with the good news? My goal 
became to understand their teaching and write about it for the church. I 
believed and still do believe that the people will hear and respond to the 
gospel at their points of critical need. The church needs to discover what 
those points are. 

This paper will attempt to apply anthropological insights to guide that 
process of discovery. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



103 



2. How Does the Iglesia View Evangelicals? 

Pasugo is the official organ of the INC. This publication provides the 
most accurate understanding of the Iglesia’ s view of Evangelicals, and 
when supplemented by anecdotes told by missionaries, presents a clear 
perspective of the INC’s view of Evangelicals. 

The Iglesia considers those who claim to be “bom-again” or 
Evangelicals to be misguided— and even deceivers. Almost every issue of 
Pasugo has an article which debunks the Trinity, and many have pieces 
refuting the doctrine that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. 

“Small town” preachers and preachers of “international caliber” alike 
proclaim that there is no need to join a particular religion or church to be 
saved by Christ. Many become convinced that this is true. Indeed, there is 
a preponderance in the number of preachers and so-called evan^ical 
churches to try [iic] to prove that faith alone is needed for salvation.^ 

They use very strong words when describing the supposed deception 
of certain strains within the church. 

In vying for membership, they use various gimmicks to win people over. 
There are those who emphasize miracles and wonders; some boast of 
their alleged healing powers; others promise material prosperity to their 
followers. 

But does it automatically mean that those who are able to perform great 
wonders such as healing and prophesy have received the Spirit of God? 

Not necessarily.... [jC|he Bible teaches that the devil is a great deceiver 
and liar (John 8:44).!^ 

Further, the INC’s teaching is be wary of Evangelicals, 



Isaias T. Samson, Jr., “Not a Prejudicial Thing to Say,” Pasugo 50 (October 
1998), pp. 5-6 (5). 

^ Reuben D. Aromin, “God’s Everlasting Covenant with His People: Part I,” 
Pasugo 50 (January 1998), pp. 13-15 (14). The faith/word movement is quite 
strong in the Philippines, even within established denominations such as the 
Christian and Missionary Alliance. 

^ Donald Pinnoch, “The Charismatic Movement,” Pasugo 51 (January 1999), 
pp. 5-8 (7). 




104 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



[There is] proliferation of various evangelists and preachers all 
professing to be of God and dispensers of His words and using the Bible 
as their alleged proof of being such.... [W]e must be on guard.*^ 

Two incidents involving missionary colleagues^during our first term 
of service further highlight this attitude. Blair Skinner, a cult ministry 
specialist, was involved in research on the INC. Several weeks after 
visiting a service in a local barangay chapel where he raised questions with 
the pastor, Blair visited their “mother” chapel (denominational 
headquarters) in Quezon City. When he arrived, Blair was asked to present 
some identification and give his name. After he did this, he was told, “We 
know about you. You’re not welcome here and must leave.” He was then 
“roughly” assisted out of the building. Several years later he was across the 
street (a four-lane heavily-traveled road) from the church, taking pictures. 
When he was spotted, a group of Iglesia men ran across the street and 
grabbed him. They beat him up and told him never to return— or he 
wouldn’t be returning to his family. 

Another colleague, Terry Williams, has been involved in church 
planting in a Quezon City squatter area. Visiting the community three to 
four times weekly, for four years he had faithfully attempted to befriend 
residents and share the gospel in both word and deed. One day an INC 
worker (who had never been seen in the area before) came up to him. Terry 
was rudely told, “This is an Iglesia ni Cristo area. You must leave, or I will 
be back with others.” It was a very real threat. The people of the 
community trusted Terry by this time, and offered him their “protection.” 
The INC worker was told to leave. 

It is apparent from these encounters that the Iglesia is more than wary 
of Evangelical missionaries. Missionaries are actually viewed as a threat. 



3. Why Does the Iglesia Have This Attitude? 

There are three important elements which provide the background for 
understanding the Iglesia’ s response to Evangelicals. The first is a 
historical one dating back to the beginning of the century; the second is the 



^ Ferdinand P. Alcid, “The Rightful Preachers of God’s Word,” Pasugo 50 
(August 1998), pp. 8-12(8). 

* Both Blair Skinner and Terry Williams are close friends and missionaries 
with ACTION International Ministries, the agency with which we work in the 
Philippines. They told me directly about these experiences. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



105 



way in which the message has been and continues to be sent, even to the 
present day; and the third involves a lack of understanding of the receptor. 

To understand the Iglesia, one must return to its founder, Felix 
Manalo. A brief history of his early years and the founding of the Iglesia 
will give a framework for my observations. 

3.1 Historical Background 

There are conflicting stories as to how Felix Manalo began the 
spiritual quest that eventually took him through five denominations. But 
one thing is clear: initial contact with the Bible caused him to question 
what he_had been taught about God and religion in the Roman Catholic 
Church.^In 1902, while a teenager, Manalo witnessed a debate on the use 
of images in worship between a Roman Catholic priest and a Protestant 
pastor. It was inconceivable to Manalo that the priest could lose, but he 
did. As a result Felix joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1904 at the 
age of 18.^ He attended Bible training courses and may have become an 
exhorter or lay preacher. When his mother became ill and lay dying, he left 
his studies and went to her side. 

Following her death Manalo returned to Manila and began study with 
the Presbyterians at Ellinwood Bible Training School. He stayed with the 
Presbyterians for three and half years until he joined the Mision Cristiania, 
the Christian Mission of the Disciples of Christ, at the age of 22. He 
attend^ classes at the Disciples’ Manila College of the Bible for four 
years 

Manalo joined the Seventh Day Adventists in 1911 after attending one 
of their Bible studies. He was assigned to Bulacan as an evangelist until he 
resigned following an_argument over doctrine and practice at an Adventist 
workers’ conference.^ There is some disagreement as to his reason for 



^ Arthur Leonard Tuggy, Iglesia ni Cristo: A Study in Independent Church 
Dynamics (Quezon City: Conservative Baptist Publishers, 1976), pp. 18-19 and 
Fernando G. Elesterio, The Iglesia ni Kristo: Its Christology and Ecclesiology, 
Cardinal Bea Studies V (Manila: Loyola School of Theology, 1988), p. 7. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 25; Elesterio, Iglesia, p. 8. Iglesia ni Cristo, This is the 
Iglesia ni Cristo (Quezon City: Iglesia ni Cristo, 1976), p. 5. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. 25-26. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. 27-30. 

Elesterio, Iglesia, p. 9; Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 34; Iglesia ni Cristo, This Is, p. 6. 




106 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



leaving the AdventistSj_He may have been disciplined for his elopement or 
for moral indiscretion. 

There followed a brief association with philosophers and atheists 
which did not last long. The turning point came in 1913 when Manalo 
spent three days alone in a closet. He emerged claiming he was to start a 
new church based on the scripture. It was to be a Filipino church, not one 
led by a foreigner. He immediately began to preach, forming a small 
church which he registered with the government in 1914.^That small 
church has grown into the INC of today, numbering in millions. 

Why did Manalo continue moving from denomination to 
denomination? Did he have a problem with authority? Or was there a 
deeper issue? While the first may have been true, there does appear to be a 
deeper issue involved which has shaped the Iglesia’s attitude towards 
Evangelicals. Research into the efforts of Protestant denominations in the 
Philippines in the early 1900s sheds some light on this issue. 

Kenton Clymer in his work, Protestant Missionaries in the 
Philippines, 1898-1916: An Inquiry into the American Colonial Mentality, 
has extensively researched the archives and personal records of 
missionaries to the Philippines in this time period. His writing shows that 
Protestant denominations were in competition with each other, seeking to 
build their denominational numbers sometimes at the expense of unity (a 
continuing theme in Iglesia teaching).'^ Perhaps most telling were the 
paternalistic and racist attitudes of the missionaries, a result of common 
western culture and thought patterns of the day.^^lymer notes. 

It was commonplace to rank the races, comparing them in terms of 
intelligence, culture and possibilities for advancement.... Although 
missionaries differentiated among the various Filipino cultural groups, 
many could not resist the temptation to generalize about Filipinos and to 
compare them as a whole with other races. A^ rule, Filipinos and other 
Malays were ranked rather toward the bottom. 



Julita Reyes-Sta. Romana, “The Iglesia ni Kristo: A Study,” Journal of East 
Asiatic Studies 4 (July 1955), pp. 329-420 (331). 

Elesterio, Iglesia, p. 10; Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. 40-41, 46-47. 

Kenton J. Clymer, Protestant Missionaries in the Philippines, 1898-1916 
(Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), pp. 32-33. 

Clymer, Protestant Missionaries, pp. 65-66. 

** Clymer, Protestant Missionaries, pp. 65-72. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



107 



In particular, note the following comments abiiut and from 
missionaries who probably had direct contact with Manalo. 

Disciples missionary Bruce Kershner concluded in vivid language that 
the only thing that kept a missionary “in sympathy with the degraded 
people he would otherwise despise” ijps his almost naive faith that there 
was a saintly quality in all human life. 

J771 

He believed that Filipinos were “defective” in “thought power.’ 
Kershner wrote home, 

Imagine them in troops of a dozen, more or less, coming to your home, 
some covered with sores, scrofulous, epileptic, possibly smallpox [iic], 
all dirty and naked; they sit on your chairs, handle your clothes, play with 
your books, or any thing they can get.... We try to keep them from 
coming upstairs where we live, for|^y are bad enough downstairs in the 
chapel, vestibule, and school room.^ 

Presbyterian James B. Rodgers thought Filipinos were lazy and 
Stealy B. Rossiter believed Jiie island contained a “great bunch of semi- 
civilized human material.”^ Methodist Homer Stuntz regarded the 
Tagalogs as “the mosLenterprising, the most quarrelsome, the most restless 
race in the country.’^ I^ing the same time period he wrote home, “As a 
rule all Filipinos drink. 

To Seventh Day Adventists,i^e Filipino habit of smoking was a major 
concern which they condemned. ^^lymer notes, one missionary wrote that 
although he was pleased that Filipinos bought his books and liked to read. 



Tuggy, Iglesia, notes several of these names in his description of Manalo’s 
involvement with different Protestant denominations, e.g., Kershner (pp. 28-30), 
Rodgers (p. 26), Stuntz (p. 25) and the Adventists (p. 31). 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 72. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 74. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 76. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 79. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 73. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 67. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 77. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 78. Tuggy notes in his description of an Iglesia service 
that members smoked outside following the service. 




108 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



“he commented with a toch of irony, reading was ‘not so distressing as 
hard work, you know.”’^The prevailing attitude was that Filipinos were 
lazy. 

For these missionaries, U.S. nationalism was a compon^ of their 
endeavors: they were serving not only God, but their homeland.^For them 
American culture was inextricably linked to the Christian message. 

In supporting the government, of course, the missionaries expected it to 
pursue goals worthy of a Christian nation. To many this meant the 
infusion of American cultural and spiritual values, as well as Western 
political and economic concepts and arrangements.... Given their belief in 
the many deficiencies of Filipino society, the missionaries also expected 
the new government to be strongly paternalistic, to carry out the white 
man’s hurden, even when that meant conflict with the majority of the 
people.^ 



Most missionaries supported the army during the Philippine-American 
War and never condemned its atrocities against Filipino civilians. 

From this research it is easier to understand Manalo’s movement from 
denomination to denomination. Was he searching for acceptance? For 
respect? For an opportunity to use his gifts of leadership? For an 
appreciation of the Filipino point of view and value system? We do not 
know, but it is clear these themes were lacking in his interactions with 
Protestant missionaries. It is not hard to see why Manalo might have left 
western denominations to form a truly Filipino church. 



3.2 How Have Evangelicals Been Sending the Message? 

Evangelicals have been writing about the INC since I960. Early 
writings aimed at summarizing the history of the church and highlighting 
its false teachings. A Protestant View of the Iglesia ni Cristo by Albej± 
Sanders was written in 1962 to provide a “refutation ofmajor teachings”^ 
of the INC. Sanders describes them as a “religious sect.”^^-KVhile in general 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 79. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 155. 

Tuggy, /g/eiw, pp. 155-56. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. 157-58. 

Albert J. Sanders, A Protestant View of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Quezon City: 
Philippine Federation of Christian Church, 1962), p. 2. 

Sanders, A Protestant View, p. 3. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



109 



he treats their teachings directly, without pejorative language, on occasion 
his choice of words might have been better if he had considered the 
Filipino receptor. “It is inconceivable that since 1914 ‘the true church,’ 
which it is claimed is the rebirth of the church which was ^ablished in 
Jerusalem in 33 A.D., has existed only in the Philippines.”^ Read by a 
Filipino with a strong sense of nationalism, who takes pride in his church 
and whose highest value is good relations, these are “fighting words,” not 
friendly ones. Sanders appropriately writes that the INC’s “three basic 
doctrines are serious deviations from biblical teachings and from the 
traditional Christian faith” and are “in large rneasure, negative.... The 
Iglesia has a deficient and confused Christology.”^^ut he goes further by 
concluding that the Iglesia has an “inbred, ghetto view,” meaning that the 
“Iglesia has little or no serious interest or concern for the world outside its 
bounds with respect to righting wrongs, encouragins^the administration of 
justice and raising the lot of the underprivileged.”^ Yet he states at the 
outset of his work, “Protestant^eed to have a dialogue with the leaders 
and people of this movement. ”'^It is difficult to perceive how a dialogue 
could take place or even why there would be a desire for such dialogue 
given the negative attitude of this author. 

A brief article in Christianity Today in 1965 notes that “evangelicals 
now view them [the INC] with great concern as a^ore serious threat [than 
Roman Catholicism] to the true Christian cause. ”^This perhaps highlights 
the overarching attitude of Evangelicals during this time period, and is a 
strong statement given the traditional animosity between Roman Catholics 
and Evangelicals of the time. 

Studies in Philippine Church History, which appeared in 1969, 
included a chapter on the Iglesia written by Albert Sanders. Again, even 
more negative language and images are presented regarding thej-INC. 
Sanders describes them as “aggressive [and] materially successfuf’*^and 



Sanders, A Protestant View, p. 3 1 . 

Sanders, A Protestant View, p. 3 1 . 

Sanders, A Protestant View, p. 76. 

Sanders, A Protestant View, p. 2. 

Eustaquio Ramientos, “The Manalistas,” Christianity Today 9 (January 1, 
1965), p. 42. 

Albert J. Sanders, “An Appraisal of the Iglesia ni Cristo,” in Studies in 
Philippine Church History, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (Ithaca: Cornell University 
Press, 1969), pp. 250-465 (350). 




no 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



refers to the “aggressiveness of Felix Manalo.’® In describing Manalo’s 
funeral he notes, 

Thousands filed past the bier to observe the remains of this great 
religious leader; many of them, mostly women, were seized with 
paroxysms of grief, collapsing in violent spasms, writhing and moaning 
on the floor.. .members were seen weeping, wailing, fainting outright, 
swooning into fits of anguish.... ISIuch was the spell this man had 
exercised over his humble followers.^ 

Sanders is not conveying this situation sympathetically, but critically. 
Yet again, Sanders notes. 

The Iglesia ni Cristo and its members have been derided, ridiculed and at 
times slandered.... Instead of ridiculing the Iglesia and its beliefs, efforts 
should be made to better understand them, ^ entering, when possible, 
into a dialogue with its leaders and members. 

It seems that ridicule may have been the prevailing attitude of 
Evangelicals towards this group. 

In 1976 Arthur Leonard Tuggy published The Iglesia ni Cristo: A 
Study in Independent Church Dynamics, the result of his doctoral work at 
Fuller School of World Mission. His presentation of the group, which 
included a history and study of its growth and characteristics, is the most 
careful presentation done by an Evangelical. He writes. 

The most helpful image then is that of an independent church, sub- 
Christian though it may be in some doctrines and practices from the 
evangelical point of view^ut a church that has arisen as an extension of 
and reaction to, missions.^ 

He notes that the “limiting factor in this research is the almost 
impenetrable security curtain which the INC administration has dropped 



"*** Sanders, “An Appraisal of the Iglesia ni Cristo,” p. 350. 

Sanders, “An Appraisal of the Iglesia ni Cristo,” p. 356. 

Sanders, “An Appraisal of the Iglesia ni Cristo,” p. 364. To be fair to the 
author, Sanders does point out some strengths of the INC, “The members are well 
disciplined and they are exemplary citizens of the nation.... Christians of other 
traditions may learn some valuable lessons from this body which has become the 
fastest growing religious movement in the Philippines” (p. 364). 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 15. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



111 



over its inner workings. He further highlights the attitude of some 
missionaries towards the Iglesia by remarking twic^ on their comments 
referring to “the devil” being behind its growth.^ He concludes that 
Manalo was either “a self (Muded leader or he was called by God but in 
some way was disobedient.” 

More recent books, pamphlets and tracts have classified the Iglesia as 
a cult. A prime example is DonalcOlatt’s book, Counterfeit, published by 
OMF Literature in the Philippines.^Platt again primarily attacks doctrinal 
issues and uses words which would be offensive to Filipinos. 



The reasoning here is quite fantastic, and is an example of the way many 
cults ignore the context of Scripture verses and bring together unrelated 
passages, resulting in some unusual beliefs.... Who knows, maybe 
someone from Taiwan or Japan or even Hong Kong will soon arise and 
claim to be the “angel from the East.”^ 



Most recently, Robert Elliffs Iglesia ni Cristo: The Only True 
Church? has been widely distributed in the Philippine missionary 
community. Published in 1989, the book is perhaps most representative of 
prevailing attitudes and approaches used by Evangelicals in the Philippines 
to reach members of the INC. Elliffs method is to point out an Iglesia 
doctrine and then attack it using a proof-text approach. He earnestly 
believes that simply fighting fire with fire or the scripture verse with the 
scripture verse will be enough to persuade. 



We believe the facts you have read in this book clearly show you that the 
Iglesia ni Cristo organization is not of God. The choice is yours, you 
cannot serve two masters. You either se^ Erano Manalo and the Iglesia 
ni Cristo organization or you serve God.^ 



His attitude is, “I’ve said it, you believe if’-a very western 
knowledge-based and individualistic approach to conversion. Elliff does 



Tuggy, Iglesia, p. ix. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. vii, 255. 

Tuggy, Iglesia, pp. 260-61. 

OMF stands for Overseas Missionary Fellowship, the former China Inland 
Mission. So this publisher is a mission-supported enterprise. 

Donald Platt, Counterfeit (Manila: OMF Literature, 1981), p. 105. 

Robert Elliff, Iglesia ni Cristo, the Church of Christ from the Philippines: 
The Only True Church? (n.p.: n.p., 1989), p. 87. 




112 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



further harm to the Christian cause by presenting the story (anonymously) 
of a man who had left the Iglesia ministry. The man wrote, 

The hypocrite INC ministers preach on the sanctity of their lives. They 
feel this is necessary to be able to deceive INC members.... I likened this 
religious organization unto white washed tombs which look beautiful 
outside Mt on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything 
unclean. 



Elliff s conclusion? “If you s^ in the Iglesia ni Cristo organization 
and do not repent you will perish!”^ 

With the advent of computers and the Internet, web sites on the INC 
have appeared. Often produced by Evangelicals, these are, again, 
doctrinally focused and often resort to name-calling. 



I intend to show the false doctrines of this organization, 
this church may become aware of its spiritual dangers. 



.that followers of 



One common characteristic among these “unique” basic doctrines is they 
are all founded on deception.... We’ve chosen anonymity to avoid 
possible retributions from the INC fanatics for anyone— particular those 
well-intentioned former members and indoctrinees who’ll [iic] help 
expose its dark sinister side (boldface part of the web site). 



When viewed side by side, these books and materials written by 
Evangelicals present some startling findings. First, the message being 
presented is doctrinally (or knowledge) focused. Second, the message is 
being sent in a hostile manner. Third, there is a seeming disregard for the 
culture of the receptor, e.g., he or she is not treated as an equal; the high 
value of good relations is ignored and not utilized; the message is given in 
direct, almost staccato fashion. One who is culturally sensitive to the 
Filipino context would use relationship as a vehicle and not get “right to 
the point, because we don’t want to waste time.” Truth is not measured in 
the same way in the Philippines, because the highest values are different 
than in the West. A further evaluation of the Iglesia as a receptor is needed. 

Elliff, Iglesia ni Cristo, p. 90. 

Elliff, Iglesia ni Cristo, p. 93. 

Chris Anna, The Iglesia ni Cristo, www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/5645/ 
iglesia_ni_cristo_study.html (Oct, 1999). 

Non Iglesia ni Cristo Association, Iglesia ni Cristo Deceptions, 
www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/7982/nica.html (Oct, 1999). 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



113 



3.3 Understanding the Receptor 

Filipino culture is Asian. It is not western, despite having a thin 
Western veneer in its large mega-cities. The worldview and values of a 
Filipino are different and at times distinctly at odds with those of us from 
the West. A recent Pasugo article remarked on this difference, noting that 
“desirable Filipino traits... [are] courtesy, courage, diligence, helpfulness 
and hospitality.”^ These are values which highlight a relational society. 
Most members of the INC are Filipino and speak Tagalog (or local dialects 
outside central Luzon). To better understand the receptor in a cybernetic 
model of an Evangelical presenting the gospel to a member of the INC, 
some anthropological tools and insights need to be applied. 

3.3.1 Epistemological Foundations 

Paul Hiebert suggests that in order to understand how we 
communicat^ we need to understand our own epistemological 
foundations. ^We must also understand the culture we are trying to reach. 
So a look at the epistemological underpinning of the Iglesia is in order. 

The Iglesia hierarchy aspmes that it alone has the clear and unbiased 
interpretation of the Bible.^ The church is restorationist in outlook, 
believing the true church disappeared by the fourth century because of 
apostasy and has only reappeared with the emergence of the “angel from 
the East,” Felix Manalo.^The INC alone has the correct interpretation of 
the scripture^and all most agree to thisJnterpretation in order to be saved. 
They demand unity in their teachings,^going so far as to have the same 



El P. Buela, “Metro Manila South Instills Nationalism in Children,” Pasugo 
50 (October 1998), p. 29. 

Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues 
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), pp. 20-51. 

“Manalo has exclusive authority to preach the undeniable and unadulterated 
truth.” Letters to the Editor. Pasugo 47 (March 1997), p. 3. For further analysis of 
the Iglesia’s sources of authority using Oden’s quadrilateral of the scripture, 
tradition, experience and reason as a framework, see Anne C. Harper, “Sources of 
Authority in the Iglesia ni Cristo” (an unpublished paper; Quezon City: Alliance 
Biblical Seminary, 1997). 

Iglesia, This Is, p. 43. Also, Tomas Catangay, “The Messenger and the 
Reestablishment of God’s Church on Earth,” Pasugo 49 (May 97), pp. 10-11 (1 1). 

Feliun Fuentes, “Why God Sends Messengers,” Pasugo 42 (May-June 
1990), pp. 6-8 (6, 8). 

Feljun Fuentes, “The Angel from the East and His Message,” Pasugo 45 



59 




114 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



sermon outline (produeed by the exeeutive minister) prpehed in every 
ehapel throughout the Philippines on a given Sunday. In loeal and 
national elections their membership will vote in a bloc as directed by the 
hierarchy.^This is to preserve unity. They believe unity is only possible 
when everyone completely agrees. Tiiyiembers are not to read the Bible for 
themselves, mueh less interpret it.^They are told what to believe. The 
Iglesia attacks those who refuse to aecept their position In Hiebert’s 
typology, these charaeteristics deseribe the “naive idealist.”^ 

Failure to understand this epistemologieal underpinning of the INC 
has led Evangelicals merely to eross swords with them by presenting a 
different interpretation of the scripture. The result has been rejection of the 
messenger— and real failure to eommunicate the gospel. 

3.3.2 Cultural Distance 

Missionaries who have studied this group have tended to focus on the 
truth of their beliefs, usually stressing differenees and pointing out false 
teaehings. The Filipino, in eontrast, values relationship over truth or order. 
Maintaining relationships and harmony are the highest values of the 
eulture. Meaning in life is not based so mueh on aeeomplishments as on 
social connections. There is a hierarehical structure to Filipino soeiety; 
everyone knows his/her place and is most eomfortable in that place. The 
sense of individualism so important to a Westerner is not important to a 
Filipino. Societal plaee and relations take precedenee; it is a shamed-based 



(November-December 1993), pp. 4-20 (5). 

Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 149. 

Bienvenido C. Santiago, “What We Believe and Why,” God’s Message no 
volume (Special Issue, July 1993), pp. 23-27 (24). 

Fuentes, “Angel,” p. 13. Also see the church’s constitution which includes a 
description of church officer responsibilities in Elesterio, Iglesia, p. 174: 

The Doctrine necessarily to be observed by members of the Church of Christ: 
Article 1— The absolute duty of every Minister of the Church of Christ is to 
obey and submit to their superiors— Hebrews 13:17 

Article 2— The Minister who does not submit to the Divine Authority of his 
superiors is resisting the power of God.... 

Article 4— Qualifications. ..(d) Not self-willed, hut always cooperating to [ii'c] 
all agreements concerning the administration— Titus 1:7 

Iglesia ni Cristo, This Is, p. 59. 

^ Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections, pp. 26, 40. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



115 



society. Being careful to save the “face” of someone is not just important, 
but absolutely necessary to maintaining good relations (the highest value). 

Within the Iglesia there is a very clear class structure which flows 
from a centralized church structure. The chief execi^ive minister has a 
cabinet of twelve males who wield great authority.^ Below are male 
district officers, male ministers, deacons and deaconesses.^The pnly roles 
open to females are those of choir member and deaconess.^ Church 
members are divided into small groups of seven to ten headed by a deacon 
and d^oness who check on their attendance and generally care for their 
needs. “HDrder is important, but only as a means to relationship. No one can 
advance up theJadder unless his entire family has joined the church and 
remains active.'^ So there is much social pressure to remain within the 
church. To question or move away from the church is to disturb peace and 
unity, which equals offense and shame. 

To further understand and quantify the cultural distance Evangelicals 
need to cross in sharing the gospel, two evaluative scales are presented 
below (see appendices 1 and 2). 

It is apparent from looking at these two scales, that western 
missionaries have a long way to go to become credible communicators of 
the gospel. Filipino Christians have a much smaller distance to cross. 
Together we must consider new approaches to this large group of people. 
Do we throw up our hands in disgust or give up because methods we have 
used in the past have not worked? Have they have even caused not just 
rejection of the message, but hostility towards it? No, we must reconsider 
how to communicate the gospel by including the values and worldview of 



Tuggy, Iglesia, p. 149. For further examination of the Iglesia and its 
stmcture, see Anne C. Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo: Its Ecclesiology in Teaching 
and Practice” (an unpublished paper; Quezon City: Alliance Biblical Seminary, 
1998). 

Ma. Angeles C. Guanzon, “An Analysis of Religious Leadership in the 
Iglesia ni Kristo,” in Filipino Religious Psychology, ed. Leonard N. Mercado 
(Tacloban City, Philippines: Divine Word University Publications, 1977), pp. 127- 
40 (127-39). 

Interview with Cora, Quezon City, October 1998. Cora is a deaconess in the 
Tandansora local chapel. The real name is withheld by request. 

Tom T. Mercado, “A Milestone in a Couple’s History,” Pasugo 50 (August 
98), p. 7: “Among the multifarious duties of this office are administering a group 
consisting of a number of households, leading them in propagational and education 
drives, and performing specific duties during worship services.” 

69 



Interview with Cora. 




116 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



these people in the process. We need to become incamational 
representatives of a Triune God Who longs that they know Him in a fuller 
way. 



4. What Are Some Possible Approaches? 

First, we must move away from a doctrinal approach to reaching the 
INC. Since this is a group that will oppose change from the outside, 
reaching the church hierarchy should be our priority. Change must come 
from within and above. These men are people with power and wealth, 
often involved in businesses outside their church walls or in negotiating 
jobs for Iglesia members. Filipino Christians in similar positions of power 
need to consciously befriend them and even provide jobs for church 
members as a strategy for interaction. As relationships deepen, further 
opportunities will present themselves for understanding the needs and 
questions these people have— and that the gospel can meet. We must be 
intentional in our incarnation of the gospel. Iglesia members need to see 
how worshipping a God who gave himself for us and being in relationship 
with the incarnate son of God are different from their church experience. 

Evangelicals need to consider the possibility of building on existing 
“pillars” within the church.^That is, what are the truths and good things 
that this group teaches and promotes? Good citizenship, honesty, desire to 
learn, repentance for sins, care for other church members, and much more 
are biblical values that can be applauded. The belief in one God and the 
authority of the Bible, though distorted from our viewpoint, can be points 
of building, not of accusation. 

Western missionaries need to move from accusation to encouraging 
dialogue and working together. Concern for the poor, working for justice, 
and promoting harmony are areas where we could join forces.^ 
Evangelicals might be concerned that the Iglesia would claim all the credit 
for joint endeavors. In the light of eternity, that is not important. Given the 
remarkable growth of this church, there is probably much we could learn 
from them. What is important is for them to see that we value them and 
desire to be in relationship with them— just as God does. 

Dudley J. Woodberry, “Contextualization among Muslims: Reusing 
Common Pillars,” in The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission 
Today, ed. Dean S. Gilliland (Dallas: Word, 1989), pp. 282-312. 

Since the writing of Albert Sanders, the Iglesia has been doing remarkable 
outreach work to help the poor, and it has built housing developments, a hospital 
and a university. 




Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



117 



5. Conclusion 

Members of the INC are a major unreached people group in the 
Philippines. They are closed and even hostile to the presentation of the 
gospel by Evangelicals. This is the result of three factors: Early Protestant 
missionary attitudes at the start of the century were nationalistic and racist; 
Evangelicals have focused on the message by using written communication 
and doctrinal attack as the primary means of communication; and there has 
been little consideration of Filipino and Iglesia culture in providing a 
viable, incamational witness to this group. 

Evangelicals’ presentation of the gospel continues to be limited by a 
bounded-set mentality stressing differences which tends to view everything 
the Iglesia teaches and does as false. We have defined Christianity simply 
in terms of our owmbeliefs rather than in terms of a relationship with 
Christ at the center.^ Our focus has been on proving their religion to be 
false, not on leading them to become followers of Jesus by knowing him in 
a deeper way. While it is appropriate for Evangelicals to point out the error 
of false doctrine, we must be careful in the way we do it, by showing 
respect for their beliefs and by not using pejorative language. We need to 
move beyond words in books and tracts to building relationships which 
will take time. 

We should build credibility not just in what we think (order and truth), 
but in the ways Iglesia members consider important (relationship). The 
task is still before us. If this unreached people group were an illiterate 
society without the Bible, wouldn’t we make every effort to see that they 
received the word? The challenge in front of us today is to truly 
communicate the gospel to the INC in a manner they will understand and 
embrace. 



Hiebert, Anthropological Perspectives, p. 117. 




118 



Journal of Asian Mission 3/1 (2001) 



Appendix 1 : Seven Dimensions of Cross-Cultural Communication^ 





Distances | 


Missionary to INC 


Filipino to INC 


Worldview 


4 


1 


Cognitive Process 


7 


0 


Linguistic Form 


9 


0 


Behavioral Pattern 


8 


1 


Social Structure 


9 


0 


Media Influence 


5 


0 


Motivational Resources 


6 


2 


Totals 


48 


4 



Scale: 0 to 10, with 0 meaning no distance and 10 being the greatest distance 



David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturalfy (Grand 
Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), p. 172. Brief descriptions frompp. 164-68: 

Worldviews— ways of perceiving the world 
Cognitive processes— ways of thinking. 

Linguistic forms— ways of expressing ideas. 

Behavioral patterns— ways of acting. 

Social structures— ways of interacting. 

Media influence— ways of channeling the message. 

Motivational resources— ways of deciding. 





Harper, “The Iglesia ni Cristo and Evangelical Christianity” 



119 



Appendix 2: Hofstede’s Four Major Cultural Distance Dimensions 



0 



High Collectivism 



Low Power 





(I) 

(F) 


(M) 

High Indi' 


idualism 



High Power 



High Task Orientation 
(M) 



Weak Uncertainty. 
Avoidance 



Strong Uncertainty- 
Avoidance 



(F) 

(I) ' 

High Relationship 
Orientation 



(M) = Missionary (I) = Iglesia (F) = Filipino Christian 



Robert J. Clinton, “Crosscultural Use of Leadership Concepts,” in The Word 
among Us, pp. 183-98 (187-90). He describes the categories as follows: 

Power distance— YsfeK to the extent to which leaders and followers accept 
hierarchical differences between leaders and followers.... 

The individual-collective dimension describes the relationship between the 
individual and the collectivity that prevails in a given society.... 

The task-related behavior versus relationship behavior describes a continuum 
along which a leader’s bent toward a leadership style is dominated by task 
behaviors or relationship behaviors.... 

The uncertainty-avoidance dimension indicates the dynamics involved in a 
society’s approach to uncertain and ambiguous situations.